Malinda Lo’s latest novel opens with birds falling dead from the sky. Teenage Reese Holloway and her crush object/debate partner, David Li, are caught in a strange near-apocalypse as all over the world, flocks of birds crash into airplanes. Unable to get a flight home from their debate, they rent a car and try to drive back. After adventures which I won’t spoil, they make it back to San Francisco, where life has gone more or less back to normal… except for their strange new abilities, gaps in their memories, and the men in black who keep following them around. Reese meets a cute, mysterious girl, Amber, and finds that she isn’t as straight as she had thought. But that’s only the beginning of her discoveries…

Adaptation is quite different from Lo's Ash, a fairytale retelling, and Huntress, a quest fantasy. I liked it the best of the three, partly because so many elements of Adaptation suit my tastes, but more because it has an emotional immediacy that the other two didn’t quite reach. The setting, from apocalyptic freeways in Nevada to a lesbian club in San Francisco, is as vividly depicted as the characters’ feelings. The structure is distinctly three-act: action-packed beginning, long leisurely slow build of a middle, action-packed climax. I enjoyed all three, but you will probably like the book more if you know going in that the whole thing isn’t the wild ride of the beginning.

It’s old-school science fiction given new life by Lo’s gift for depicting moment-to-moment physical and emotional sensations, especially those of sexual attraction, and by her likable cast of characters, who are diverse in a natural-feeling, realistic way. Adaptation is built from familiar tropes, though ones currently extremely rare in YA, but is executed beautifully. Imagine an episode of the X-Files – an early one, back when it was still good – done as a sensual YA novel with a bisexual heroine and a love triangle that doesn’t make you want to throw things. If that sounds good to you, you will almost certainly enjoy this novel immensely.

It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, exactly, but it’s definitely one half of a complete story. The sequel will be out next year. I intend to buy it in hardcover.

Adaptation

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Guardian (UK newspaper) article here!

"I hope that in the future, some bestseller about mutant or alien or gladiator teenagers will have its inevitable love triangle consist of a girl who must decide between the two girls who love her."
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I am delighted to announce that Stranger, the post-apocalyptic YA novel that I co-wrote with Sherwood Smith, will be published by Viking (Penguin Group) in Winter 2014.

The acquiring editor is Sharyn November. I have wanted to work with her ever since we met twelve years ago, at World Fantasy Con in Corpus Christi, Texas. She said that she was reprinting classic children's fantasies. I grabbed her by the shoulder and said, no doubt with a mad gleam in my eye, "Lloyd Alexander's Westmark! Elizabeth Wein's The Winter Prince! Patricia McKillip's The Changeling Sea" She smiled and said, "We're doing all three. Got any other suggestions?" Sharyn, thank you so much for championing our book.

Also, thank you very much, Eddie Gamarra and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein of the Gotham Group!

Yes, it's the Yes Gay YA book. Here's a little more about it:

Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

There are five main characters. One is Ross, who knows all about prospecting, fighting, and desert survival, but hasn't had to interact with other human beings on a regular basis since he was twelve. The others are teenagers from Las Anclas: Mia Lee, introverted genius and town oddball, who can design six different weapons before breakfast; Yuki Nakamura, an aspiring prospector who is dying to get out of his small town and explore the rest of the world; Jennie Riley, Changed telekinetic and over-achiever, who must choose between becoming the teacher of the one-room schoolhouse or joining the elite military Rangers; and Felicite Wolfe, the Mayor's narcissistic daughter, who likes to spy on people with the help of her pet mutant rat.

And yes. Yuki is still gay. So is his boyfriend, Paco Diaz, the drummer in the town band. And Brisa Preciado, who has the power to make rocks explode, is still dating shy Becky Callahan, who works after school waiting tables at the saloon. As you can see, this isn't so much a "gay book" or a "straight book" as an ensemble book.

Sherwood and I wanted to write something fun and exciting, with adventure and romance and mutant powers and martial arts and a vivid sense of place. And we wanted it to be about the people who are so often left out of those sorts of books: Latinos and African-Americans, Jews and Asian-Americans, gay boys and lesbian girls, multiracial teenagers and teenagers with physical and mental disabilities. We didn't do this to fulfill some imaginary quota, but because we wanted to write about teenagers like the real ones we know, the real ones in Los Angeles, the real ones we were.

We hope that, however flawed it may be, our novel will make even a few of those teenagers happy.

This is a very personal project for me. People often ask me if I'm ever going to write about coming back to America, after spending most of my childhood in an ashram in India. In a metaphoric sense, this is that book. To tell the story of what it was like for Ross to come to Las Anclas, I drew upon my own experiences of stumbling into an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar rules, beset by memories I couldn't bear to recall and reactions I didn't understand, longing for connection but with no idea of how to relate to people.

Stranger is a post-apocalyptic adventure, not an issue novel. But all stories have their genesis somewhere, and for me, it was my wish to say, "It's okay. You're okay. You'll get better. You'll make friends. You'll fall in love. You can be a hero." I hope it finds its way to the people to whom it will speak.

If you would like to be notified when the book actually comes out, please comment to this post to say so. I will reply to your comment when the book is published, and you should get an email notification. Or you can leave your email address in a comment. (I can copy the address, then delete or screen the comment.) If you're not on LJ/DW, you can comment anonymously (or email me) with an email address where I can reach you.

Incidentally, I am putting out an e-book anthology of my short stories and poetry in a couple months. If you'd like to be notified when that's available, please comment to say so.

If you're interested in reading our book, you may also be interested in this list of YA science fiction and fantasy with major LGBTQ characters. And here's a list of YA fantasy and science fiction with protagonists who aren't white..

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have, about the novel or anything else.

Finally, please feel free to Tweet, link to, or otherwise promulgate this post. Lots of people mentioned during Yes Gay YA that they would like to know what happened to this book, but the vast majority probably don't read my blog.
Five queer kids save the world after an apocalypse!

With that premise, I expected to enjoy the book a lot more than I actually did. It’s largely a comedy, with the apocalypse caused by Muldoona, a Goddess lurking in her Fortress of Despair and eating peeled grapes. Humor is the most subjective of forms, and others might well find this book funnier than I did. I mostly found it totally unfunny.

The first chapter introduces Skilly, a bisexual 5000-year-old caveman in a 17-year-old body, due to having been given an Amulet of Immortality by his brother Urf.

It is a rule of fiction that protagonist cavepeople get names that sound like names, and non-protagonists get guttural grunts. See also The Clan of the Cave Bear: Protagonist: Ayla. Leading Man: Jondalar. Supporting Cast: Creb, Brun, Broud. In both books, this is explained within the text: Ayla and Jondalar are Cro-Magnons, who are more verbal, and Skilly was not his birth name. Still, the rule stands. Why don’t cavepeople ever get brief names that don’t sound like manly grunts, like Eee, Bip, or Baa?

I am always complaining that ancient immortals never sound, talk, or act like ancient immortals. But in a comedy, why not mine the fact that a main character is prehistoric for laughs? Though Skilly mentions ancient stuff sometimes, he otherwise seems like a modern 20-something.

The other main characters are Vikky and Ginger, a pair of indistinguishable shallow, snarky teenagers, Julia, a less shallow but still snarky teenager, and Marly, who is trans or genderqueer. Marly’s gender identity is not clear-cut, which I liked. Marly is in a locked-in juvenile facility for skipping school. It was explained that teenagers can be locked up for stuff which is not illegal for adults. This is true, but, as was typical of many plot points, an unlikely motivation or occurrence does not get any more plausible just because it’s given one line of justification. Some of this was clearly meant as a joke, but I generally didn't find it funny. In other cases, even satire needs to make sense on its own terms, and this book often didn't.

The apocalypse consists of magically-induced nuclear catastrophe, which kills hundreds of thousands of people and leads to Ginger and Julia getting stranded, along with other shallow American tourists, inside Anne Frank’s house. This is every bit as embarrassingly anvillicious as it sounds. Meanwhile, Marly is stranded in juvenile detention. The kids’ predicament has some nice narrative tension… until Gods give them all magical amulets that solve everything.

If this had been about straight kids, I would not have made it past chapter one. If I hadn’t been on an airplane, I would have given up right there. However, I made it to the end, and I’m kind of glad I did, because the WTF just kept coming. Starting with Marly, previously the most sympathetic character, in the space of a single conversation, becoming one of the least sympathetic characters I have ever encountered in anything.

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Not my cup of tea. But it might be yours! I have a low tolerance for hipster irony, and very particular tastes in comedy.

The End
After the apocalypse, persecuted gay lovers fight homophobia and dragons!

The mysterious sudden climate change called the Ice descended about eighty years prior to the beginning of this book. 17-year-old David's 100-year-old grandmother barely remembers what things were like before; the government is still hanging on and handing out precious seed wheat; the culture is reminiscent of the Old West but the social mores are reminiscent of the 1950s, due to a resurgence in religious and social conservatism immediately post-Ice.

The best things about this novel were the atmosphere and the voice. (This is the third book in a row I've reviewed with that note, isn't it?) The cold is palpable, David's voice is likable and unique, and the small town and its culture are very well-imagined: Little Town on the Prairie after the apocalypse.

The first third or half of the novel, in which David slowly introduces us to his world, is very strong. A young new healer, Callan, shows up to help the old one. In David's eyes, Callan is hot, sophisticated, bringing a whole new world of intelligence and culture in the form of precious books, and hot. I am a total sucker for the "what are these strange feelings?" trope, and David's awakening sexuality is sensitively depicted.

Problems set in at about the one-third mark, and the same one continues all the way through: amazingly stupid decisions. In a world in which doors have latches and homosexuality is punishable by death, I find it mind-boggling that the town healer, who commonly has people suddenly rushing into his office due to medical emergencies, would get a blow-job in his office without latching his door first. I also find it boggling that a townsperson would give him one under those circumstances. Sure enough, someone walks in, and both are immediately jailed.

This sort of thing is especially annoying because other aspects of the book continue to be very good. I'd be lulled along by the sweet romance and well-done scenes of post-apocalyptic life, and then wham! Astounding stupidity!

Also, the last half-to-third borders on grimdark. Warning for child harm. Major spoilers below.

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A Strong and Sudden Thaw

There is a sequel, but Goodreads reviews suggest that it's excruciatingly depressing. I think I'll give it a miss. But I did enjoy the first book, albeit with caveats, and it has a satisfying ending.
Two high school girls have a romance while they're taking college classes at a summer camp for gifted kids. The only way this could have possibly been more up my alley would have been if "gifted" was in the "Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters" sense.

Nicola, amateur artist and aspiring archaeologist, narrates the book in first person, with occasional excerpts from her diary, also in first person but with a different typeface and no capitalization. This may sound annoying, but it's actually adorable. Here's an excerpt from her diary. The "angst crows" are Goths, and the context is that she's looking around campus to see if she can spot any other queer kids:

and there's another boy i've seen, i think he's in katrina's class, who often wears long velvet skirts and lots of black eyeliner. but i believe this to be a fashion statement rather than a declaration of sexuality, since i have observed him making out with various angst crows.

i suppose he could like boys, too, though.

i of all people should remember that.


Though the romance between Nic and the remarkably named Battle Hall Davies is the main plotline, Ryan spends a lot of time on an ensemble of new friends, their friendships and romances and individual character growth, classes and picnics and dances. The emotions are realistic and sometimes angsty, but the whole summer has a shimmery nostalgic glow. The book is also very funny. Ryan has a great gift for comic setup/payoff, of which one of my favorites, a small moment but one which made me laugh and laugh, involved a boy's attempt to bypass the disgusting cafeteria food by claiming to keep kosher.

On the one hand, this is a perfect little book. On the other hand, I wish it had been longer. Battle had a lot of stuff going on that I got, but would have liked to have seen explored more. Also, I just wanted to keep on reading.

It reminds me a bit of Maureen Johnson's The Bermudez Triangle, another very funny book which mostly takes place over a summer and involves female friendship, female romance, and the complexity of sexual identity.

Empress of the World
You may recall YA fantasy author Malinda Lo's statistical breakdown of how many YA books have any LGBTQ characters, out of all YA fiction published in the USA in the last ten years. It turns out that it is a depressing 0.6%.

That 0.6% includes books in which the LGBTQ character is a minor supporting character.

As part her month-long blogging for YA Pride month, Malinda has once again crunched the numbers, this time for 2012, producing her trademark pie charts. The entire post is well worth reading, since she analyzes all sorts of things, but I'm pulling out her extrapolated percentage on YA fiction with LGBTQ characters for the year 2012: 1.6%.

1.6% includes anthologies with a few stories featuring LGBTQ characters, and the vast majority of the stories featuring straight characters. (11 of the total 55 books are anthologies.)

Of the total 1.6% of all YA fiction, 70% is mainstream/realistic, and only 30% fantasy/sf. Someone more mathematically minded than me will have to do a breakdown on what percentage of the total that is.

During the month, Malinda had a number of interviews with authors. The majority of them hadn't had much or any difficulty getting their books published. This was quite different from the experience of the authors who came forward during Yes Gay YA, and I wondered why a) there was such a split, b) why, if so many authors had no trouble, there were still so few books being published.

I have some ideas.

1. Fantasy vs. Mainstream

Most of the authors who came forward during Yes Gay YA to say that editors or agents had required or requested them to change their character's sexual orientation, race, disability, or gender (so the romance would be straight) were authors of fantasy or science fiction. Most of the authors Malinda interviews who had no issues with that were writing realistic fiction.

This is borne out by the statistics: of the tiny percentage of LGBTQ YA fiction being published at all, 70% is realistic.

I think that sf/fantasy YA publishing has more of a problem with LGBTQ characters than does realistic publishing. And I don't think it's because the former is more homophobic.

My theory is that historically in YA publishing, being a member of a minority is seen as a "problem." Characters who are not white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, etc, most commonly turned up in "problem books," in which the story is about how much prejudice you face and how hard it is to non-white, Jewish, disabled, gay, etc.

Fantasy, however, is perceived as escapist fun. Even dark dystopias are seen as an escape from real-world problems. If your identity is itself perceived as a problem, then you cannot be the hero of a fantasy novel.

Hence, the never-ending whitewashing of fantasy novels with protagonists of color. I don't think that's caused by someone thinking, "I hate black people! Make her white!" I think it's a combination of the thought that readers are racist and won't buy the book if the hero is accurately depicted, and the thought that if a person of color is on the cover, readers looking for fantasy will incorrectly perceive it as a novel about how much racism sucks, and not buy it.

Therefore, LGBTQ characters are an easier sell to the mainstream, because they fit into a pre-established genre. (Even if the actual books don't really fit it. Many don't.)

2. Books About Being Gay vs. Books with Gay Protagonists

This is often a matter of focus. You could write a book about a lesbian ballet dancer who faces homophobia, and have it primarily be about the struggle against homophobia, or her slow realization of her sexual orientation, or her romance with another dancer, or her obsessive drive to succeed.

My guess is that books with minority protagonists are the easiest sell if they can be perceived and marketed as primarily about the experience of being a minority. (Even if not about the problem of being a minority.) Lots of people do want to read about that experience, because it's their own experience. You can openly advertise the content, and the people who want to read it will buy it. It's irrelevant if people who don't have that identity ignore the books, because they're not the market.

Books which are not primarily about the experience of being a minority, but have a minority protagonist, are probably a harder sell. In theory, they could appeal to anyone who likes that particular story. Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes, for instance, is a paranormal romance with a gay protagonist, not a novel about the experience of being gay while having paranormal experiences.

However, publishers often believe, correctly or not, that people who like that genre in general but are not specifically interested in gay themes - a larger group than the group of readers specifically looking for a "gay experience" book - will refuse to buy the book if the hero is gay. Then they feel like they're losing most of their potential audience. And so they ask, as Tracey has stated he was asked, for the gender or sexual orientation of the protagonist to be changed.

Ironically, the more a book has the perceived potential to appeal to an audience which does not match the identity of the protagonist, the more difficulty the author may have selling it as written.

3. Who Got Interviewed?

Malinda interviewed authors who sold their books. The authors who got so much pushback that they gave up or self-published did not get interviewed, because she never heard of them. The entire publication process selects against books which get the most resistance, and for books which get the least.

(This cuts both ways: Sherwood and I specifically asked for authors who had experienced pushback regarding their characters' identities to come forward, so we were selecting for the people with that experience.)

Many books are rejected for being bad. But I find it very hard to believe that, out of all submissions, the books with LGBTQ characters are so much worse than the books with straight characters that 99% of all published books are the latter.

NOTE: None of this, obviously, applies to publishers who solely or primarily publish LGBTQ books. This is about the rest of the publishers.

Discuss! Argue! Theorize! Go to Malinda's blog and check out her complete list of all LGBTQ YA published this year!
This novel alternates "Now" and "Then" sections. In "Then," teenage Cass bicycles across America with her best friend's ashes. In "Now," she has returned from her trip and is facing everything she tried to flee via road trip: high school, her friend's death, and the bully who called her a dyke in front of the entire school and now has inexplicably been given the starring role in Cass's he dead best friend's musical, Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad.

A sweet, poignant high school lesbian romance and coming-of-age story which also partakes of one of my least-favorite YA genres (my dead best friend) and one of my most-favorite (backstage drama). The former is well-done and non-moralistic; the latter is totally sweet. (Especially the excerpted song lyrics.) The whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the climax to the "Then" section, in particular, was beautifully orchestrated and moving.

One of my favorite things about the whole book is that Cass, the heroine, is a Quaker, which affects her worldview in interesting, believable ways. I also liked that her parents are supportive and she doesn't rebel against them and her culture just because she's a teenager in a YA novel.

The main flaw was that many of the supporting characters were thin. While I believed in her theatre pals as a group, as individuals, there was not much to them. For instance, all we ever learn about Lissa is her ethnicity, that she's quiet, and that she's a vegetarian. Also, some of the dialogue would have been unusually self-aware and emotionally sophisticated coming from twenty-somethings, let alone supposedly socially awkward teenagers.

Overall, however, I liked this a lot. I leave you with these main selling points: 1. Teen lesbians. 2. Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad: The Musical.

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend (Only $6.80 on Amazon.)
Malinda Lo (Ash and Huntress) is celebrating YA Pride: "Every Friday in June, I’ll be listing the YA novels first published in 2012 that include LGBT main characters."

Books published in the first quarter: January through March.

From that list, I'm especially interested in the dystopia anthology, Brave New Love, with LGBTQ stories by Steve Berman, Nisi Shawl, Elizabeth Bear, Amanda Downum, and William Sleator, and Street Dreams, by Tama Wise, a Maori writer. "Living life on the sidelines of the local [South Auckland] hip-hop scene, Tyson finds that to succeed in becoming a local graffiti artist or in getting the man of his dreams, he’s going to have to get a whole lot more involved."
1. Shameless self-promotion here: My Draupadi poem "River of Silk" has been reprinted in Rose Lemberg's anthology The Moment of Change. I am in incredibly good company all around, but I have to especially boggle that I am sharing an anthology with Ursula K. Le Guin, who is basically a goddess.

2. I have updated (and continue to update) my master list of YA fantasy and sf with major LGBTQ characters. (The list of YA fantasy/sf with protagonists of color is much longer and so taking me longer.)

Please check it out for books you might want to read and to tip me off to anything I might have missed. Please also check the notes at the top. If I get one more "But Vanyel!" or "But Tom and Carl!" I will lose my mind.

There are two other questions which I often get asked (though not as frequently as "But Vanyel!"), which I will address here since they're more complicated:

Q: Shouldn't the list be just of authors who identify as LGBTQ? Or at least separated out that way?

A: There are lists out there of LGBTQ authors. I totally support that. But I didn't do it that way on mine for these reasons: I don't know the identities of the majority of the authors. Also, identity is not always straightforward or publicly known. People sometimes write books first and come out later. Sometimes their own understanding of their identity changes. Sometimes it isn't safe to be out.

Sometimes identity isn't cut-and-dried. For instance, if you want to know my orientation in terms of straight/bi/lesbian line, I identify as straight. Basically, I think I'm closer to straight than to bisexual. If you give me a Kinsey scale, I identify as a 1.5 or a 2. Other people point to that exact same point on the line, and call it queer or bi.

In short: Sexuality and identity and labels are complicated. Also, my list, my personal preference for how to organize it.

Q: I see offensive books on that list. They should be removed or given a warning.

A: I see offensive books too. But one person's offensive book is another person's beloved, life-saving treasure. Case in point (though not on the list due to NOT BEING YA): Vanyel, rider of sparkly ponies and polarizer of opinions.

Labeling and removing for offense is a can of worms. Pretty soon every book that more than two people have read would have both a warning for offense and a note that some people don't find it offensive and do find it tremendously positive, and then the notes would become totally meaningless. If you're worried about being offended, get opinions on the matter from people you trust before reading.

3. The Diversity Book Club. So, obviously, grad school and running a book club has not been a match made in heaven. Should I try to continue? Would people still like to participate? Or should I just read and review on my own time, without trying to get people to read the same book at the same time?
rachelmanija: (Engaged!)
( Jun. 7th, 2012 12:22 pm)
Can anyone who keeps up with recent YA novels check my current list of LGBTQ YA sf and fantasy and see if I've missed anything that's come out recently?

PLEASE READ THE CRITERIA AT THE TOP OF THE LINKED POST BEFORE MAKING SUGGESTIONS:

- Vanyel was not published as YA. Neither were Diane Duane's "Door" books.

- Tom and Carl (and Dumbledore) are not identified as gay within the text.

- Sf and fantasy only!

- The book must be available now, not forthcoming at some later date.

- The list is intended as a COMPLETE LIST OF EVERYTHING THAT IS OUT THERE, not a list of non-offensive books. It does not express opinions on the quality, authenticity, or positivity of the portrayals of the characters in the books. Please use your own judgment in deciding which books you wish to support.
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For one of my classes (Queer Counseling and Narrative), I need to write a paper in which I do a "first session" counseling an LGBTQ person or couple, then write up a summary of the full course of therapy.

This is not about diagnosis, and the character does not need to have a mental illness. They just need to have some sort of issue or life circumstance which might be helped with therapy.

Can you suggest a character or characters who might be fun to do this with? Criteria:

1. They must be LGBTQ. (They don't have to necessarily explicitly identify that way.)

2. The work they come from must be contemporary (or near-contemporary) realism. No fantasy or sf.

3. Ideally, this will be something I've already read. If not, it should be something comparatively easy to read and obtain.

4. The work must be fiction.

Please give a little bit of detail if you suggest something.
“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” the court said. The ruling is limited to California. The issue will be bounced up to the Supreme Court, which may rule as soon as next year.

In other LGBTQ-related news, I got swamped by schoolwork and have not yet had a chance to curl up with either of the Permanent Floating YA Diversity Book Club selections for last month. (Theme: YA fantasy with lesbian heroines.) Reviews will appear, I hope, later this week. Has anyone else had a chance to read either or both?

There is a sweet deal at Amazon on Libyrinth now - only $4.29! Haly is a Libyrarian, one of a group of people dedicated to preserving and protecting the knowledge passed down from the Ancients and stored in the endless maze of books known as the Libyrinth. But Haly has a secret: the books speak to her.

Tripping to Somewhere is $5.99 on Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, I believe you can still buy it in that format and read it on your computer. It's everyone's glittery fantasy turned real: to follow the Carnival's mystic band of beautiful people as they defy every limit and dance through history -- all in search of a good time.
Sponsored by [personal profile] oursin.

An unusual, meditative collection of linked stories about an African-American vampire as she lives through the centuries, starting with her “birth” as an escaped slave in 1850 Louisiana, and concluding in an apocalyptic 2050.

As a young slave, she is taken in by a 500-year-old white vampire, Gilda, who teaches her, bonds with her, and finally passes on her name before swimming out to her much-delayed death. The original Gilda had hoped that the new one would also take on her lover Bird, a Lakota vampire, but the angry and grief-stricken Bird takes off instead. The new Gilda meets other vampires, helps people in need, and watches time go by and history march on. Periodically, vampires from her past return, to reconcile or attempt revenge. As she was taught, she takes only as much blood as she needs to survive, without killing anyone; in exchange, she leaves behind new ideas, new insights, and, most often, hope.

This is known as “the black lesbian vampire book,” but that’s not quite accurate. While Gilda seems to prefer women for romantic relationships, feeding has a distinctly sensual aspect, and she feeds on both men and women. But it’s not a romance, paranormal or otherwise. Nor is it a horror story. It’s mainstream literature, with mainstream conventions, which happens to be about vampires. Even when there’s a lot of action and drama, with Gilda fighting for her life, it has a slow, thoughtful, philosophical, humane tone to it. (It’s in omniscient POV, which is probably a good choice for a story with this much sweep.)

I liked this but found it uneven. The stories have a through-line and continuity but also stand on their own, and some are much stronger than others. (It looks like at least some of them were originally published separately.) The emphasis on daily life, complex emotions, and moral quandaries works very well in some stories, but feels dry or slow in others. The first story is wonderful; the others vary between nearly coming up to that standard, and failing to come up to it.

Gilda doesn’t have anywhere near as much culture shock (“time shock?”) as I expected given the entire premise of the book, and I think that’s a flaw. There's also almost no addressing of historical attitudes toward lesbianism, which I would have liked to have seen. In general, though bad things happen and racism exists, the focus is on resilience, hope, love, and endurance. This works beautifully in some stories, but makes others feel unlikely or slight.

Note that there is an attempted rape right at the beginning, and that the story set in the 1950s is way more graphically violent than anything else in the book. (The cover I’ve linked below is misleading. Most of the book isn’t violent at all, other than some gentle, humane, sensual – albeit often nonconsensual – bloodletting. My copy has a much more representative cover, with a black and white photo of a black woman in a white dress.)

The Gilda Stories
This is the first selection for my permanent floating YA diversity book club.

I apologize for the lateness of this review. I started grad school in October, and the quarter ended this week. I will put up the poll for the December Book club selection today. Please vote!

Braden is a teenager with extremely powerful “witch eyes” that constantly change colors and can see visions, reveal truth, and break and create magic spells. They also give him migraines and psychic nosebleeds. He has little control over their powers, so he always wears sunglasses to prevent their magic from activating. (Not spelled or ruby quartz sunglasses. Regular sunglasses.) Due to his magic abilities, he lives with his uncle, who has home-schooled him.

One day Braden has a vision which tells him that evil magic from a town called Belle Dam is going to come after him and kill his uncle to get to him. Braden, who is well-meaning but not the sharpest knife in the drawer, decides to protect his uncle by… going to Belle Dam.

As soon as Braden arrives, he is flirted with by a hot guy from the bus. Then he is unexpectedly welcomed by a lawyer who puts him up in a hotel and introduces him to his hitherto-unknown father, Jason, who is a town VIP and a powerful witch. On Braden’s first day of high school, he is instantly befriended by two girls and flirted with by a different hot guy. All of these people, who begin relationships with Braden without him having to do anything, exposit at some length to him about how the town is run by Jason and his arch-rival, Catherine Lansing. Catherine Lansing is also the mother of Jade, Braden’s new best friend, and Trey, Braden’s love interest. Oops.

I wanted to like this novel more than I actually did. It has some funny lines and some good moments when it breaks out of its teen paranormal formula to deliver some real emotion. I liked the realistic way that Braden’s sexual orientation was handled – not without angst, but without angsty melodrama. But the prose is often clunky, too much is handed to Braden without him having to work for it, he has unconvincingly good social skills despite having had almost no previous interaction with other teenagers, and the characters, their relationships, and the plot frequently don’t make a whole lot of sense.

I never did figure out whether or not the general population of Belle Dam was aware of magic, exactly how magic worked in this world, why it took Braden to point out to everyone that perhaps it was a tad suspicious that the lawyer hadn’t aged since 1940, and why Braden’s pal Riley thought male witches didn’t exist when most of the witches we meet are male. Many conversations and character interactions were similarly puzzling, with characters taking action for no clear purpose and having reactions with no clear cause.

While Braden’s narration is sometimes nicely snarky, a lot of the prose could have used another pass. There are many sentences with unclear syntax or noticeablely awkward phrasing. For instance, The nausea in my stomach was getting worse, threatening to unleash contents in my stomach that weren’t even there.

I’ve read much worse recent YA novels. But I’ve also read much better ones. While having a gay protagonist in a mainstream YA paranormal is genuinely groundbreaking, nothing else in the novel is. If Braden had been straight, I would have complained that the novel had nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar novels.

But books with minority protagonists shouldn’t have to be staggering works of heartbreaking genius to justify their existence. We don’t demand that every YA with a straight protagonist be wonderful; we accept that some will be, but some will be terrible, and most will be mediocre or average. I can’t wait till the day that I can say that Witch Eyes has nothing to distinguish itself from hundreds of similar YA paranormals with gay protagonists.

As a work of art, Witch Eyes is mediocre-average. But there are readers out there who will love and treasure it, and I wish it stunning success. If it doesn't sound up your alley, it might still make an excellent holiday gift for a kid you know. (There's no sex, a little mild kissing, mild or no swearing, and non-graphic demon-slaying violence. It's probably suitable for ages ten and up.)

Witch Eyes

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.
My review of our October/November selection, Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes, and also the poll for our December selection, will be slightly delayed due to grad school. Both will go up within the next couple of days, once I finish my fisting paper.

Sorry for the inconvenience! If you have already reviewed the book, please link to your review in comments here.
My review of our October/November selection, Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes, and also the poll for our December selection, will be slightly delayed due to grad school. Both will go up within the next couple of days, once I finish my fisting paper.

Sorry for the inconvenience! If you have already reviewed the book, please link to your review in comments here.
rachelmanija: (Heroes: Save the world)
( Nov. 16th, 2011 12:29 pm)
These two interviews came out last month, but I never posted links because I was too depressed about how everything went down. But I think the haters have all stopped reading my blogs by now, so here you go!

Both are about Yes Gay YA, and have some overlapping content.

Radio Q. Interview with both me and Sherwood. Doesn't the host have a gorgeous voice?

On the Media. Just me. I was completely unprepared for the host's interest in the actual book, and it was all I could do to remember the characters' names. They are much more interesting than I made them sound, really.

Reminder: the current book for the permanent floating YA diversity book club is Scott Tracey's Witch Eyes. Several reviews have been posted in various journals. Mine will go up at the end of November, and then I will hold another poll to select a book for December.
The first selection of my Permanent Floating YA Diversity Book Club is Witch Eyes, by Scott Tracey!

I am doing the "dispersed reviews" method. Everyone reads the chosen book and, ideally, reviews it on their own blog, with a note explaining the book club, at any time between now and the end of November. If you review on your own blog, please leave a link in a comment here. However, should you prefer to read and comment to my LJ rather than writing your own review, I will post my review in late November.

If you can't afford to buy the book and your library doesn't have it, try requesting that your library buy it. Most libraries will take requests.

The next vote will be held in early December, and will have the same theme: YA sff with LGBTQ leads. Several other books in the first poll made strong showings, and will reappear on that poll.

Happy reading, and please consider making an announcement about the Permanent Floating Diversity Book Club on your own blog. I'm hoping that not only will people participate in mine, but will also start their own.
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